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Violence Against Indigenous Escalates in Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast

September 1, 2021
Pangas, wooden boats used by the Indigenous, for their livelihoods on Rio Coco
Pangas, wooden boats used by the Indigenous, for their livelihoods on the Rio Coco.

At Least 11 Miskitu and Mayangna Community Members Killed in Massacre by Settlers



September 1, 2021, 8:00 AM PT

Media Contact:
Anuradha Mittal, [email protected] +1 510-469-5228

  • Last week, Nicaraguan settlers attacked and killed at least 11 Indigenous Miskitu and Mayangna people living in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve on the country’s Caribbean coast.

  • Despite living on protected lands, Indigenous communities have been subject to increasing land invasions and violence at the hands of settlers coming to illegally log, mine for gold, and raise cattle in the area.

  • As previously revealed by the Oakland Institute report Nicaragua’s Failed Revolution, the Nicaraguan government has not only failed to enforce legal protections of Indigenous land, but actually plays an active role in colonization and exploitation by transnational firms and settlers (colonos).

  • The Ortega regime must respect national and international law and clear settlers and corporations operating in the territories without a legal title or lease agreement with the communities. Western corporations should be held accountable for their complicity in this violence.

Oakland, CA — Last week, Nicaraguan settlers massacred at least 11 members of the Indigenous Miskitu and Mayangna peoples living in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve on the country’s Caribbean coast. Far from an isolated incident, this attack is the latest in an escalating pattern of violence and dispossession inflicted on Indigenous communities living on protected lands. Since 2015, settlers have now killed more than 60 Indigenous people in Nicaragua, while many others have been displaced, according to the Center for Justice and Human Rights on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN).

“Despite the recognition of these lands as autonomous territories by the country’s legislation, the Ortega government has heavily promoted gold mining, commercial forestry, and cattle ranching since taking power in 2007 — both by its actions and omissions,” said Oakland Institute Executive Director Anuradha Mittal. “The result has been an influx of settlers [known locally as colonos] into these lands who continue to seize lands and kill Indigenous communities with impunity,” Mittal added. 

International silence around the failure of the Nicaraguan government in enforcing national laws, its collusion with business interests, and its active role in the colonization of protected lands, was previously shattered by the Oakland Institute report, Nicaragua’s Failed Revolution. The report also brought forward first-hand testimony on the government’s failure to follow up on reports of violence and killings of the Indigenous Miskitu community members since 2015. The same cycle has continued with this latest massacre; according to a local resident, neither the police nor the army had investigated the case in the days immediately following the killings. Now, Nicaraguan news magazine Confidencial reports that a police taskforce visited the site of the massacre, but the authorities have thus far refused to publicly acknowledge that the incident occurred.

“The settlers continue killing our people with total impunity,” said Lottie Cunningham, founder and director of the CEJUDHCAN. “The state has ignored our requests to investigate and prosecute past murders at the hands of settlers, and now the authorities are refusing to even acknowledge that this massacre took place. This impunity guarantees that more massacres like this will happen.”

International scrutiny on the Nicaraguan government’s disregard of Indigenous peoples’ wellbeing has increased over the past year. At the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Nicaraguan government, led by President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, to “take effective measures, in consultation with indigenous peoples, to prevent and address the increasing violence committed against them, including by conducting prompt and independent investigations into alleged killings and land seizures by armed groups.” This was followed by a public hearing held by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights on the impacts of the colonization of Indigenous lands on the Caribbean coast in March 2021. 

In addition to echoing international calls for independent investigations into these killings, the Oakland Institute reaffirms calls to the Ortega-Murillo regime to carry out Saneamiento — the final, crucial step of the land claims process established under Nicaraguan Law 445. Saneamiento requires clearing Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories of settlers and corporations living in or using the territories without a legal title or a lease agreement with the community. 

“The Nicaraguan government talks up its titling of Indigenous and Afro-descendant lands at international forums, but it’s a meaningless exercise if the government allows titled lands to be stolen by settlers,” said Josh Mayer, a fellow at the Oakland Institute. “Right now, titling is an empty promise. The colonization of Indigenous and Afro-descendant lands on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua has become more expansive and more violent than at any other point in history. If the government wants to meaningfully advance Indigenous and Afro-descendant rights and halt the bloodshed, they must carry out Saneamiento.”

Foreign extractive corporations operating in Nicaragua must also face accountability for their role in the violent dispossession of Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples. “While the United States, Canada, and European countries have taken action against the government of Nicaragua for growing authoritarianism, they must hold their own corporations accountable. If these countries are truly concerned with human rights abuses in Nicaragua, they must call out the complicity of these companies in the violence currently afflicting the Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in Nicaragua,” concluded Mittal.